Durban Metro's 'secret' deal to pay embattled city manager's legal fees exposed
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Durban - The eThekwini municipality secretly
agreed to foot the bill for embattled
municipal manager Sipho Nzuza’s legal
fees after his arrest on charges of fraud,
money laundering and corruption.
However, the decision was reversed when opposition parties questioned the move.
The Daily News was informed that Nzuza, who was arrested in connection with the more than R400 million Durban Solid Waste tender scandal, had applied for the city to pay his legal fees, which was approved last week.
Insiders in the City Integrity and Investigations Unit (CIIU) said the application was kept top secret. They said Nzuza, suspended after his arrest, applied after his court appearance last week and that it was approved.
“This was kept top secret. What’s strange is that the same courtesy was not extended to other officials who were arrested and charged for the same crime. We see preferential treatment,” said a source.
The source said the approval was strange considering the municipality was the complainant in the case.
“In terms of the legislation, you get indemnity if you get arrested while performing your duties as per your contractual agreement with the employer. In this case, the employee was not performing his duties and therefore he does not qualify for the indemnity. The IFP raised this argument during an in-committee meeting held on Friday and we understand that no straight answers were given then,” the source said.
Nzuza was the 17th person arrested in connection with the tender fraud.
IFP councillor Mdu Nkosi confirmed that he had raised the indemnity issue at the meeting, but warned that issues discussed in private were confidential.
“I raised the issue, but I can’t give details of what was said at the time. However, I can say that I did hear about the arrangement and if it is true that the head of legal has approved this, then there must be consequences. We will ensure that there is accountability,” he said.
DA caucus leader Nicole Graham said: “If the city manager earns R300000 per month, he can afford to pay his legal fees. We have a big issue with the fact that the city has agreed to pay the legal fees because Nzuza wasn’t acting in the course and scope of his work.
“This is a criminal case and he has been charged with fraud and corruption among other things. The City is setting a dangerous precedent if it pays the (legal) bill.”
City spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said: “According to Section 109 of the Municipal Systems Act, employees facing charges concerning their duties are entitled to legal representation at the cost of the municipality, within its tariffs. In the matter involving the city manager, the city is a complainant and as a result it is not going to pay for Nzuza’s legal costs. However, if Nzuza wins the case, the city will pay his legal team under its prescribed tariffs.”
Nzuza, still under the impression that the city would pay his legal fees, was shocked to learn this was no longer the case.
“I wasn’t aware that the approval was no longer in place because that has not been communicated with me and I don’t know why. The policy provides that the employer supports the employee until the case is finalised. If the employee gets convicted, then he pays back the employer. That’s fair because these things happen when you are least expecting them and you have no funds. In a case like this, you would want the best advocates to represent you. I’m not prepared for this financially because I was of the understanding the employer will cover the legal bill,” he said.
Nzuza said he regretted taking the job. “To think that I left Cape Town working just fine, and now I find myself in this situation,” he said.
Asked to explain the city’s decision to rescind Mhlongo’s approval, Mayisela said he was not aware of the agreement.